• Piret Saag

The Way We Work Checklist: Clarifying Communication in a Startup Team


When Tom started working on his startup with his two co-founders, the pace was fast and energy was through the roof. Cool times. The thought of discussing through some key principles around the WAY they work together never crossed their mind. It was easy to keep everyone in the loop. The idea of writing something down felt like too much red tape and a waste of time. The moment they started scaling the team, some bottlenecks started popping up. It appeared that people often remembered agreements differently, “too frequently asked questions” emerged and solving communication errors was starting to steal valuable working time.

This example comes from one of the founders I’m working with and there’s nothing particularly unusual about it. It’s kind of a logical – you tackle the problem once it hits you, right? But as many founders have learned it the hard way – it does make sense to unify certain agreements on how we roll as a team before the lack of clarity starts getting back at you.


Here is a simple CHECKLIST to get you going

🤔 How well could you explain these aspects of your business to me if I was a job candidate and asked about them during an interview?

Our business and goals. Why do we exist in the first place and what’s our long-term vision?

What’s our DNA like?

What are our guiding principles and values? Which core values help us work as an efficient team? What do we mean by each principle exactly? How does it (or the lack of it) manifest itself in daily work life? What are the attitudes and behaviours we don’t tolerate?

Do we work together in the office or do we practice semi-remote, fully remote work? Why?

Good practices of internal communication

✓ How do we reach each other? What are the tools we use for that and how do we use them? (a la The logic behind our Slack channels, e-mail lists, the way we use Trello/Basecamp/Confluence, etc.)

✓ How do we keep each other in loop about goals and progress? Do we have regular check-in/check-out weekly meetings, standups, functional team meetings, 1:1s, etc.? Our WHY and good practices around those meetings.

Workflows for different teams. How our Engineering / Sales / Customer Support, etc. work.

Our expense policy

✓ What and how do we cover? For example transportation tickets, accommodation costs, using your own car, etc.?

✓ What’s the process like? Should I send the e-mail to our accountant or upload info to a special internal tool (a la BambooHR) or something else?

How do we go about sick leave? What if I feel a bit under the weather? What if I go down with serious flu?

How do we go about vacations? How many vacation days do we offer (anything extra to what’s required by law (28 days in Estonia)? When, how and who should I notify if I want to take leave? Do we plan vacations for a longer period ahead or do we keep things more flexible?

Learning & Development: what’s our take on that? How do we encourage people to grow while working here? How do we go about performance/development talks, sharing feedback, 1:1s, etc.? Do we run internal trainings? Do we cover conference tickets? What’s the logic behind what we support financially, what not?

Our perks & benefits. What do we offer to our team members, what’s the WHY and our story behind those benefits?

Grab the checklist and think things through with the rest of your founding team. Some aspects may be more topical for you the moment, some a bit later. You may also check out some publicly available Handbooks for inspiration (Basecamp Handbook, Valve Handbook). Why invent the wheel, right? But make sure that those good practices you decide on, will reflect your own culture and guiding principles, and you're up for walking the talk constantly.

To sum up

Your organisation changes over the course of time. So, make sure this also reflects on the good practices you’re sharing with the whole team. That means both in your ongoing communication (at team meetings, during 1:1s) and in the central place where you keep things written down (e.g. Handbook).

As for Tom and his team, he said they ended up with quite productive discussions around how they are functioning today as a team and what they want to stop, start and keep on doing. Now that some of those key agreements are also written down and shared with everyone, they’ve seen, surprise-surprise :), it has created a fair amount of clarity within the whole team.

#earlystagestartup #communication #leadership

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